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A first at Cleveland Hill High School: A paperless classroom

A high school freshman sits hunched over his laptop, furiously typing his assignment in his English class. He electronically swaps assignments with his classroom partner, so they can critique each other’s work. He pulls out a hard-copy book, but still takes instruction from a teacher at an interactive, electronic whiteboard.

This is a paperless classroom at Cleveland Hill High School.

In a paperless classroom, assignments are completed and submitted digitally. Students still read books. The content is the same. It’s just a different method of delivery. Students use laptops to complete assignments in class and out of class.

Sarah Krajewski, ninth-grade English teacher at Cleveland Hill High School, has helped the district stay on the cutting edge of paperless classrooms. She uses an interactive board at the front of her classroom to go through assignments, stay on top of books and more.

Her ninth-grade English class is the first full-time class at Cleve Hill to go totally paperless, Krajewski said.

“It’s giving them the education they deserve,” she said.

That’s not just a platitude.

“Right now I only have two students that are at risk of failing the year. Typically it’s about 15,” Krajewski said.

She believes going all digital in the classroom played an important role in that success.

The district has invested in nearly 350 Chromebooks, or laptops, during last school year. More are coming. They cost about $300 apiece.

“I saw the benefits of it,” Krajewski said. “It was definitely worth it.”

She uses a program called Good Reads – a social network for readers – which gives students a structured space to discuss books they are reading or want to read.

“Do we all remember how to share with somebody?” Krajewski said to her students, not referring to the traditional way the phrase is used in schools. She meant sharing an assignment electronically with a partner who would critique his or her work.

There are times the laptops are closed and books are open. There are other times Krajewski goes around the classroom to see what page of what book each student is on, compared with the last day.

One other tool they’re using is Google Classroom. If the students choose to put the Google Classroom app on their phone, they get pinged whenever there’s a new assignment or whenever something of theirs has been graded.

Krajewski believes the Google program has helped keep her students organized. “They cannot lose any of their documents, since they are all saved in Google Drive. This means there are less excuses on the students’ parts, so they just do the work.”

The teacher also said she’s better able to monitor their progress. She can look back easily at their older assignments and also see their current work as they do it. “Students can also compare their work as well,” she said. “It gives them a great opportunity to assess their own growth.”

Students are generally happy with the paperless system. You always have your school supplies, one said. You don’t lose everything, another said. If you have a phone, you have it with you at all times, said another. One didn’t like that the teacher is “all up in my business” and another said that they may not have a phone that’s compatible with the program.

“Through the app they can also send comments or questions back to their teacher,” said Sarah Janis, technology integrator at Cleveland Hill.

Jon MacSwan, superintendent of the Cleveland Hill School District, said he went to “the Sarahs” last May with some pretty high expectations – and they were exceeded. MacSwan also feels grateful to have a school board that sees the value in this kind of technology.

“The students are really going to be the driving force to perpetuate this,” MacSwan said. “It was an investment and it will be a continued investment.”

It’s not the only local school district to dive into digital teaching. Dr. Michael Vallely, superintendent of Lancaster Central School District, said his district has purchased 900 Chromebooks in the last four months. He praised Kim Metzgar, ninth-grade English teacher at Lancaster High School, for much of the progress they’ve made toward going paperless – but said going paperless isn’t the goal. Giving students a great, well-rounded education is.

“It’s a natural and positive step,” Vallely said. “The goal is not to go paperless. The goal is to provide the highest-quality education we can.”